It wouldn’t be fair to Michael Zapata to say that his writing is reminiscent of the mesmerizing storytelling of Gabriel García Márquez, the philosophical undercurrents of Mario Vargas Llosa, or Michael Chabon’s ability to move through huge swaths of time and keep the reader pinned to the chair. It wouldn’t be fair at all, especially on the occasion of his first novel. There’s risk for both writer and reviewer. The involuntary bursts of incredulity from the noses and mouths of skeptics and the eye-rolls are reason enough to pull back on the enthusiasm of what you think is a major literary talent and err on the side of temperance. It would be fair and easy to write a quiet, modest review. There are books, though, that break all of that apart and shove you to put everything you’ve thought about reviewing a book aside and just attempt to communicate what the book has done to you. “The Lost Book of Adana Moreau” is an absolutely stunning piece of work, and it is the best book you’ll read so far this year.
The story is told through two major threads: Maxwell Moreau is the son of a black pirate and an accidental literary genius from the Dominican Republic. He has a tendency to wander: first, innocently as a child, then as a teen stargazer in search of his father, and later, in pursuit of parallel universes as a professor of theoretical physics.
Meanwhile, seventy years in the future, Saul Drower sits at the deathbed of his grandfather in Chicago and makes a promise to deliver a manuscript called “A Model Earth” to a professor of theoretical physics. A failed first attempt compels him to hand-deliver it to New Orleans, and he must get to the elderly professor before Hurricane Katrina.
You don’t have to love science or have even a Wikipedia-summary understanding of quantum physics to be absorbed. Through the two main plot threads and beautifully imaginative stories within stories, Zapata poses essential philosophical questions and explores the ways memory keeps the people of our past alive, but also pushes some of us to find alternative existences with the hope that the better parts of humanity reside simultaneously elsewhere “because,” Zapata writes, “the only real difference between one universe and another was merely a question of language, a question of what if.”
What if, for example, there was no possibility of ever being displaced from your native land? What if there were no such thing as fleeing to America in order to escape American Imperialism? And how much better is the land the displaced are escaping to, exactly? The wandering, the stargazing, the theorizing Maxwell does have its roots in the imagination and tragedy of his mother, Adana Moreau, who learns English by reading science fiction novels and pens two novels of unreality. Zapata writes: “While she couldn’t be certain why she enjoyed these writers, she thought it might have something to do with the sorts of people who came from empires––people who suffered from a sense of unreality. But through unreality, the Dominicana thought, they understood at least one important thing: that people could be other people, cities could be other cities, and worlds could be other worlds.”
“The Lost Book of Adana Moreau” tells us in no uncertain allusions that those toddlers lying on the cold floors of American detention centers right now are dreaming to keep the ones they love alive in this world. They’re dreaming to save their lives. They’re asking the universe, What if?
Michael Zapata will launch “The Lost Book of Adana Moreau” at The Hideout on February 8, 2:30PM.
“The Lost Book of Adana Moreau”
By Michael Zapata
Hanover Square Press, 272 pages